Today in History: President Pays Income Tax for First Time

March 14, 2011

Today marks the anniversary of the first U.S. President filing an income tax return. On March 14, 1923, President Warren G. Harding filed his income tax return for the 1922 year, paying about $17,000 in tax on his presidential salary of $75,000, although further details were not released.

The income tax had been enacted in 1913, but then-President Woodrow Wilson was protected by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states that the President’s salary “shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected.” From the 1860s until 1939, it was held that a new tax or tax increase diminished salary, and thus could not go into effect for presidents and federal judges (judges have a similar provision protecting them).

The New York Times of February 15, 1921 reports that then-President-elect Harding spoke against a proposed bill that would make the President permanently immune from the income tax, effectively killing it. (Interestingly, many European and international organizations have such an exemption.)


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